How do you motivate a nearly 6-year-old boy to want to learn to read?

How do you motivate a nearly 6-year-old boy to want to learn to read?

Posted in Tough Questions

Boys are often a year or a year and a half behind girls developmentally at that age. My first reaction to the question was, “Relax, don’t worry about it”. Resist the temptation to compare him to others, any others, for he is a unique individual with his own developmental timetable. It will almost certainly not match the one the schools use: it is based on some sort of mystical “average” the experts have dreamed up somewhere and is some kind of guide to a teacher with 25 kids in a classroom. But you are just one-to-one. This has tremendous educational and social advantages over a classroom. You can spend most of your time interacting with your son and he with you…..rather than he with a book or an assignment sheet of work to do, set by the teacher who is far too busy trying to maintain order and get through the subjects in the time available to spend more than a moment with any one child.

Read to him. Read books at his “level” of interest and understanding and at a level you would think is way above. Read stuff like Treasure Island, Pilgrims Progress, Gullivers Travels and other classical literature rich in vocabulary, character development and an honesty in grappling with human issues. Read at least two hours a day. Honest. This will improve his vocabulary amazingly. It will also provide you with countless opportunies to answer the questions he is sure to have about words, characters, the setting, the action, etc. This is all excellent instructional time, the best you could possibly hope for. Why? Because he is asking the questions!!! That means his mind is engaged with the material and his cognitive skills are being worked and his imagination is operational and his powers of enquiry and inquisitiveness are being fanned into flames. Each question constitutes what the experts call a “teachable moment”, which in the classroom occurs only when there is a fortuitous coincidence of teacher availability, subject interest and enough curiosity by a child to overcome both inertia and the possibility of negative peer reaction for the child to actually ask a question. But with one-to-one tutoring, you can have dozens of such teachable moments throughout the day!

Reading to him also gives you the opportunity to ask questions about things you want him to be clear on. And the reading material, if it is any of the rich literature and biographies around rather than the dry Dick and Jane calibre of stuff they often get in schools, will provide many launching pads for you to tell stories from your own background experience: your extended family, tales from when you were a child (always a favourite with children), life lessons you’ve learned, your perspective on significant moments in history you’ve lived through, etc. You will be forming his world view, his attitudes, values, standards, concepts of right & wrong, good & bad, wise & unwise. These are the things which are used to build up his frame of reference through which he eventually filters everything he hears, sees and experiences externally, and through which he will filter his own conscious thinking and evaluation processes. This is vitally important. And the sad thing is, most children have this frame of reference formed with large measures of the attitudes, values and standards they picked up from school and playmates and TV.

If you are enthusiastic about reading, if you get excited about the reading material yourself, your excitement will almost guarantee your son’s excitement and anticipation of the reading sessions. It is great if you two are curled up together in an easy chair, but it is not necessary. Read to him while he is drawing or playing with Lego. Read while he is playing in the sandbox, or washing the dishes, or tidying up his room, or massaging your feet or folding the laundry.

At some point he will be begging you to teach him how to read, because you can’t read as much to him as he would like, and he sees you buried from time to time in a book indulging your own passion to read. And of course, you will have told him plenty of times about the treasures of excitement and fun just waiting for him to discover between the covers of those books sitting on your shelves.

We’ve all heard it said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. Maybe so, but you can put salt in his feed!! The salt is your thoroughly positive attitude toward reading, your enthusiasm for it and your obvious passion for indulging in the activity yourself! Yes, your example is fundamental to your son’s learning anything. We are here face to face with one of those profound gems of wisdom, marvellous in its simplicity: monkey see, monkey do. This is a bit too simplistic, actually, for we humans are a lot more complex than that.

To summarize, meditate on two very sobering passages of Scripture, the implications of which are easy to see, yet frightening in how they will be manifested down the track. Luke 6:40 says a student will be just like his teacher once fully taught. And Galatians 6:7 can be taken as a glorious promise or as a scary threat: God is not mocked: we will reap what we sow.

From Keystone Magazine
September 2001 , Vol. VII No. 5
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig